Photos by Maddie Hiatt
Tucked next to a brewery and a pizza joint, Confluence Kombucha + GastroLab doesn’t look much different than the other restaurants lining Manchester Road in St. Louis. However, their menu is like none other in the area. And proprietor William Pauley prides himself on this feat.
A former chef, Pauley is going on his ninth year of brewing his own kombucha. Kombucha is fermented tea that has history dating back 2,000 years, but it only recently started making a name for itself in the Midwest. He focuses his creativity into his little budding 1,000 square-foot restaurant complete with kombucha on tap, a health food menu, and local art lining the walls.
“[The restaurant] came from the idea of looking at food through a scientific view,” Pauley says. “You have all of these different flavors and textures and we’re trying to create things that have never been created before, using the most natural processes we can.”
Pauley, who suffered from ulcers for upwards of 20 years, credits kombucha for saving his life.
“I really advocate for the health benefits of it,” Pauley says. “I got into it because I had a bleeding ulcer, and I started drinking it and haven’t had any problems since. That’s where my passion for it started.”
Confluence Kombucha features a simple chalkboard outlining the eight kombuchas they have made for the day. With over 100 flavors they’ve created over the years and the constant addition of new ones, Pauley says the board will never look the same. The restaurant caters to all stages of Kombucha drinkers by offering small tastes, flights, and glasses. The restaurant is gaining traction in the neighborhood, but according to Pauley, it wasn’t an easy start. Going from simple tasting in his garage to small scale farmers markets around the city, in his experience, most people haven’t heard of the beverage.
“At the [Soulard] Farmers Markets probably 90 percent of people didn’t know what we were doing,” Pauley says. “For me, it’s a really incredible space for us to inhabit because people don’t know, but they need [kombucha]. I believe that kombucha can really help anybody. Kombucha is one of the healthiest beverages that exists. It’s a really complete beverage from a health point of view.”
Kombucha is widely recognized for its health benefits, but Pauley admits most people are skeptical when first hearing about it because it is a live bacteria and contains alcohol. Physician Matt Nicholson confirms there are health benefits, yet warns kombucha consumers to always check the ingredients and do their own research.
“Because each person is built different, kombucha affects each person differently,” Nicholson says. “Generally, it can help with your immune system and gut health, but it’s not exactly the same for every person. For instance, because kombucha is fermented, it does contain alcohol so if someone is avoiding alcohol because they are pregnant or whatever reason, it may be smart to avoid it.”
Currently, they only have one storefront, but Pauley has big plans for the tiny shop.
“We’re already moving into distribution,” Pauley says. “We’ll be able to distribute to the entire state of Missouri next month. We want to be everywhere. I’d really love to be at Bonaroo [music festival] or a Rise Festival or a yoga festival, things like that. More things that make sense for us.” And with more than 4,500 bottles of kombucha jarred since he started his fermented tea journey, it looks like Pauley’s kombucha expansion is just beginning.